The Gallic rooster
The Latin word Gallus means both "rooster" and "inhabitant of Gaul". Certain ancient coins bore a rooster, but the animal was not yet used as the emblem of the tribes of Gaul.
Gradually the figure of the rooster became the most widely shared representation of the French people.
The French rooster
In the Middle Ages, the Gallic Rooster was widely used as a religious symbol, the sign of hope and faith.
It was during the Renaissance that the rooster began to be associated with the emerging French nation.
Under the Valois and the Bourbon kings, the royal effigy was often accompanied by this animal, meant to stand for France, in engravings and on coins.
Although still a minor emblem, the rooster could be found at both the Louvre and Versailles.
The rooster and the Revolution
The Revolution established the rooster as the representation of the Nation’s identity. It featured on the écu coin, sporting the Phrygian bonnet, on the seal of the Premier Consul, and the allegorical figure Fraternity often carried a staff surmounted by a rooster.
Napoleon replaced the Republic with the Empire and the rooster with the eagle, for as the Emperor said: "The rooster has no power, he cannot be the image of an empire the likes of France."
The rooster and the Republic
After a period of absence, the Trois Glorieuses of 1830 rehabilitated the image of the rooster, and the Duke of Orleans signed an order providing that the rooster should appear on the flags and uniform buttons of the National Guard.
The seal of the Second Republic shows Liberty holding a tiller adorned with a rooster, but this figure still ppeared alongside the symbol of the eagle, preferred by Napoleon II, as sign of an enduring Empire.
Under the Third Republic, the wrought-iron gates of the Elysée acquired a rooster, the "Rooster gate", which can still be visited. The twenty-franc gold piece struck in 1899 also bears a rooster.
During the First World War, rising patriotic feeling made the Gallic rooster the symbol of France’s resistance and bravery in the face of the Prussian eagle. Use of this Manichean representation, in particular by political cartoonists, gained ground, and the rooster became the symbol of a France sprung from peasant origins, proud, opinionated, courageous and prolific. Abroad as well the rooster symbolized France, even if it was not an animal everyone attributed with purely positive features.
While the rooster is not an official symbol of the Republic, it still stands for a certain idea of France. In the collective imagination, particularly in the area of sports, it remains the best illustration of the Nation.
For more information:
M. Agulhon, Marianne au Pouvoir: l’imagerie et la symbolique républicaine, de 1880 à 1914, Flammarion, 1989.